In a lot of ways, senior year of college is like senior year of high school, albeit the stakes are a bit higher and I am a little more lost. One significant portion of the HS senior year were the college applications. I remember clearly, towards the end of the process, the applications — which were intended to be means to an end– ended up taking on revelatory and transformative powers of their own. The essays after essays forced me to reflect on the four years — no, the eighteen years that had passed, coming to a conclusion about who I had became and emerging glimpses of who I hope to/will become. Now — looking at future opportunities for the next few years is forcing me to do the same, look back at my past, my choices and decisions. They call into question, again and again, the choices I am now making about my life: “Why do you want this opportunity?” “What do you hope to gain from this?” “What contributions can you bring to the table?” And again, I feel like a little kid carefully, unwrapping her secrets in front of a table of faceless adults, hoping that they don’t reject not just the application, but her. People always say, don’t take rejection personally, but perhaps if these rejections are not personal, you haven’t been putting in yourself in your applications.
These posts have been a little deeper than I originally intended them to be. Of course, daily life is happening around me. I have been seeing friends, running errands, being a general chauffer for my brother. The rest of my life has been undramatic, but I feel like everything in me is in turbulence. And so, these journal posts are what they are before you.
I haven’t been out of school for very many days, but I am starting to feel like my normal, busy, happy self. I will be working after school with some kids at the Prince of Peace school starting in January for a month, thanks to a friend. Being back at the school today, talking to the kids, brought back memories of the summer after my senior year. I worked at the same school. That remains one of my favorite summers to date.
A lot of the little faces from that summer blend, but there were some that stood out. Emily, who would yell and scream about being left out, but was always the sweetest when she came over to hug you. Little Adrianna was always so fragile. She asked Paul to open her popsicle the day after I left, “Miss Rowen is gone now and I need help opening my popsicle.” Lauren, whose face was smooshed into a pink mess of tears and screams the first time I met her, but who was all smiles that same afternoon when she left for home. Yvonne. The first time we met, she walked over and hugged my legs, because her little arms couldn’t quite reach high enough to give me the big hug she would like to give me. Whenever she held my hand, her hand would be only big enough to grasp two fingers, but she would still trott beside me, holding on to the two fingers, and jabbering away about whatever exciting new thing is going on in her life. Her ponytail bouncing behind her. I always associate her with light pink, but I can no longer remember if that’s just a color she frequently wore or her personality.
In my memories, I was a reserved child. Reserved, but mischievous. I probably didn’t have the kind of self-awareness during my early years to really conclude that about myself, but definitely from fourth grade to eighth grade, I was shy and reserved. It’s strange to compare the current me with the adolescent me, even me when I started Swarthmore. I can’t pinpoint a specific moment of transition, but the transitions between the stages all happened very swiftly, between the span of a few months to a few years.
Speaking of transitions, I met up with Joey for lunch today. We have kind of a strange relationship. Although we have only met to talk a few times, I feel very close to him. I think in some ways, I remind him of him during his college years and he reminds me of the path I could have and can still take. He is a surgeon and an academically involved one. The conversations are light and fun on a superficial level, but on a deeper level, I think, both of us are interested in how the other’s trajectory will turn out. His has a more direct path than mine right now, having much of the career building portion of his life behind him, but both are interesting for different reasons. For me, it is reassuring to see someone, a mentor figure, who has gone through similar stages. For him, my life is what his life could have been like, a passion that he might have had to forgo in exchange for other loves — family, stability, a successful career.
There are different paths to the same result. There are the same starting points that lead to different paths. Some strange combination of life events leads to one or the other — I am not sure what my coherent story is right now. But perhaps there isn’t one. Maybe it is the decisions we don’t intend to make that lead to a whole chain of consequences, as Tolstoy had pictured. And as I had written at the end of that paper:
” Each moment is at the end and the beginning of a long chain of events, stretching onwards into the infinite in both directions. Tied by these long chains, each moment seems inevitable and predestined.” But in that particular moment, nothing seems as if they are inevitable or predestined. It’s this belief in our free will that keeps us living and going. And going. And going.
I did not realize this when I booked the flight, but this morning flight is timed almost perfectly with the sunrise.
This flying off into the sunrise, watching Philadelphia drop away below me, seems too romantic, almost overly dramatically so. From the rocking motion and general post-Swat fatigue, I usually fall asleep as soon as the tires start rolling, but this time, I stayed awake. My mind is buzzing with thoughts.
The last few weeks, even months, have been strange. I have had moments where I am suddenly overwhelmed by emotions about leaving Swarthmore – a kind of premature nostalgia mixed with melancholy. But largely, I have been feeling neutral. I had expected to feel more emotional about graduating. After all, this is the longest I have lived anywhere since I began elementary school. But even as I sit here now on the plane, writing about this, I don’t feel any particularly strong feeling of finale.
I think, in part, it’s because my mind has been largely occupied with other matters the past few months – namely that of development work and Haiti. This had begun a while ago and has not ended with finishing Swarthmore. It has taken up a larger mental and emotional space in the last few months than any Swarthmore-related subjects. In turn, finishing Swarthmore loses the delineating meaning it may otherwise hold. For other seniors, this moment demarcates their college career from their future. For me, Swarthmore has unknowingly ended sometime this summer. This technical ending is nothing but a formality. It means neither the end of a chapter nor the beginning of another one. This post should be about the last 3.5 years, but instead, all that occupies my mind is the next 2 years of my life.
I have been juggling in my mind several different thoughts. A part of me desperately wants to be on the ground, working with an NGO, any NGO, in Haiti, as that is where I can really learn from some hands-on experiences. The other part of me feels that I am vastly under prepared for anything of the sort and to begin making any sort of sustained impact, I need more training. This part of me wants to focus on getting back to school soon.
Haiti does not have a dearth of humanitarian efforts. What she needs are effective humanitarian efforts targeting at her actual needs. To really, fully understand what these needs may be and how best to satisfy them, I need to spend a year just focusing on learning more about development work and about Haiti. I keep asking myself: Do I really want to be working with just any NGO? Would working with just any NGO be beneficial for my future and for Haiti? Asking these questions makes me to want to go back to school. On the other hand, as I have learned again and again, theory is very different from reality. Reading about development work will not be the same as being on the field and trying to implement what I’ve read. This drives my focus to the other end of the spectrum. Ideally, I think, the best situation for me right now is to work for an organization that I find ideologically appealing, in the states. This will allow me to have the capacity to focus on getting back to school and getting the degrees necessary to really go back some day and make some real impacts.
This post makes my experiences at Swarthmore sound trivial. They by no means were. I have grown a lot at Swarthmore. Perhaps, more than I can really verbalize. I am not sure how much of it was just growing up and how much can be attributed to Swarthmore, but Swarthmore has given me a depth that, I think, is harder to see from the surface. Superficially, I am still the same person who entered Swarthmore, but I have also gained the ability to think more deeply about things that cross my path. I have learned what work means and how much I can get done if I really tried. I have grown more confident of my abilities, but at the same time, gained a sense of humility. These – Swarthmore has provided for me. Some of them, I gained through my courses. Most of them, I gained through interacting with my peers. And for that, for creating this community of extraordinarily interesting individuals, I have to thank Swarthmore for.
As I sit here, listening to the air conditioning hum and conversations mumble, these are the thoughts that are running through my mind. The plane just landed, opening its wings up to slow down – a dragon sprucing up, opening up to the world its innards.
Estoy escribiendo mi post primero a los 2:54 am. Muy tarde o temprano? Ya no puedo decir. Ahora mismo, todas son un vaho — el tiempo, mi mente, mi vida.
There has been a lot of changes in my life recently and a lot more to come in the next few years. I am starting this blog to begin taking root in something — a philosophy of thought, a passion, a project. Hopefully, writing about this big ole adventure of mine will help me get there. I suspect that there will be a lot of vagrant searching before I reach there, but someday, I believe I will get there, that somewhere special where I feel like I am exactly where I belong.
A mentor once quoted to me a Keats quote that I believe really summarizes this period of my life:
“the imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted: thence proceeds mawkishness, and all the thousand bitters which those men I speak of must necessarily taste in going over the following pages.”
Perhaps that is the best description of this blog — a documentation of this journey of a soul in ferment, character undecided, way of life uncertain, and ambition thick-sighted.